Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Fairfax County working group finally acknowledges shrinkage in office space per worker.

The following is the text of an e-mail Reston 20/20 co-chair Terry Maynard sent to Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova today concerning Fairfax County's first official recognition that the space per office worker is shrinking and the tremendous implications that belated decision has on planning.  

Dear Chairman Bulova,

I was pleasantly surprised in reading the report of the County Board-appointed Fairfax County Building Repositioning Working Group, "Office Building Repositioning and Repurposing:  Fairfax County Building Repositioning WorkgroupReport," the brief section (p. 9) with the subject title.  It specifically states,
A significant trend occurring nationally and affecting the office market in Fairfax County is that the average amount of leased space per employee is shrinking.  This is attributed to more efficient office design, increased ease of teleworking, and hoteling, all of which result in many types of work being done in locations other than the traditional office environment.  Average footprints are anticipated to shrink from 225 usable square feet (USF) per person in 2010 to 150 USF per person by 2017, a reduction of 40 percent.
This is exactly the message I conveyed to you several times more than three years ago in questioning why Fairfax County planners continue to use 300 gross square feet (GSF) for office space planning purposes.  (These letters and related articles are available on the Reston 20/20 blog.)  By our calculation, Usable Square Feet (USF) used in this report is approximately two-thirds of the value of GSF.  In this case, the County's implicit planning assumption is that there is about 200 USF/office worker--slightly lower than the 2010 average laid out above, but 25% higher than the expected USF/worker next year. 

To be consistent with that expected average next year, the Fairfax County GSF/office worker planning assumption would have to drop to no more than 225 GSF/office worker.  This is, in fact, the planning metric used by Arlington County, which dropped its space per office worker planning assumption from 250 GSF/worker to 225 GSF/worker a couple of years ago.  With office space per worker continuing to shrink, you might even want to use a planning assumption of 200 GSF/office worker.

The County's continuing failure to address this reality has critical implications for planning the associated infrastructure, none possibly more important than transportation planning.  Right now, the FCDOT is hard at work in its Reston street planning effort (RNAG) and using the 300 GSF/office worker as one of its guidelines for calculating future traffic on Reston's station area streets and beyond.  This includes calculating office-driven traffic for the 29.7 million GSF of office space planned in these areas. 
  • At 300 GSF/office worker, that's 99,000 potential office employees.
  • At 225 GSF/ office worker, that increases to 132,000 potential office employees, a one-third increase.
  • At 200 GSF/office worker, that increases to 148,500 potential office employees, a 50% increase.
The one-third (33,000) increase in the number of prospective office employees at 225 GSF/employee will have a tremendous impact on traffic, transit, and other transportation means in Reston's station areas that is not now being considered.  So while FCDOT is planning to reduce Reston station area traffic standards from LOS "D" to an urban standard of LOS "E," the fact of the matter is implementation of the current plan will result in a massively gridlocked LOS "F."  Indeed, just as there will be one-third more potential employees, the potential costs of meeting any reasonable traffic standard are also likely to increase by at least one-third--actually substantially more as marginal costs tend to rise.

No doubt similar consequences will be felt in Tysons and other urbanizing areas of the County, aggravated by the recent passage of the FAR 5.0 ZOA.  Quite simply, the County can't afford to meet the infrastructure requirements the continuing use of this inaccurate planning assumption will create.

The Board, the Planning Commission, and Fairfax County's Department of Planning and Zoning need to step up to the adoption of realistic planning assumptions, probably also on dwelling unit size (increased to 1,200 GSF from 1,000 GSF in the Tysons and Reston planning efforts).  Otherwise, the County will experience gridlock nearly county-wide, inadequate school facilities, crammed public parks, etc. 

While you (and certainly not I) will not be around to see this massive planning failure occur, it will happen in the absence of sound planning.  I strongly urge you to take action now to assure that this doesn't occur for the sake of those--including our families--who will be living here long after we depart. 

In the meantime, I wish you the best of the holidays with family and friends and a happy, prosperous, and productive New Year.

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee

BCC:  Reston community leaders and local news outlets

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